TORONTO — Will Canadian fans of big-budget, American Super Bowl ads get to see them while the NFL championship game is played next February, or will that be ruled out of bounds after just two seasons?
Canada's new trade agreement with the United States and Mexico, known as USMCA, obliges Ottawa to get rid of a two-year-old rule that prohibits cable and satellite companies from blocking U.S. signals during the annual event.
The rule was put in place in response to public feedback that many Canadians preferred to see the American version of the Super Bowl broadcasts.
But fans of Canadian advertisers are hoping domestic ads will muscle out their competition for the first time since 2016, the last year that simultaneous substitution of U.S. signals was allowed during the Super Bowl.
Until Sunday, when Canadian and American politicians agreed on revisions to the North American Free Trade Agreement, Bell Media had failed to restore rules that allowed it to sell Super Bowl time without U.S. competition.
Then came USMCA, specifically Annex 15-D in the chapter covering cross-border trade in services, which binds Canada to rescind a special Super Bowl provision established by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
So far, the government hasn't said whether it will overrule the CRTC soon enough for Bell Media to score with advertisers ahead of the Feb. 4, 2019, Super Bowl game.
Asked what Bell Media is telling advertisers, spokesman Scott Henderson replied in an email: "We continue to be open for business."
Judy Davey, vice-president of media policy for the Association of Canadian Advertisers, which has been a Bell ally and intervenor in at the Federal Court of Appeal and Supreme Court of Canada, said in an interview that she's hopeful.
"We'd like to see it implemented ASAP so that Canadian commercials can be seen in 2019."
ACA has argued there are several reasons to use simultaneous substitution to replace television advertisements originating from the United States with ads coming from Canada.
"It gives Canadian advertisers a chance to reach Canadian consumers, which helps our Canadian economy," Davey said Wednesday.
"There are (also) some ads that can run in the U.S. that are not acceptable by Canadian advertising standards and there are a number of brands and products that aren't even available in Canada."
To the argument that the Super Bowl ads have become part of the total sports and entertainment experience surrounding the event, Davey said that they can now be seen online even before the game.
"It's not as if people don't have access to the ads."
She said the ACA — as well as other organizations including Bell and several unions — want to prevent the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunication Commission from extending the simsub ban beyond the Super Bowl.
Among other things, the trade deal — which has yet to be ratified by any of three countries — says "Canada may not accord the program treatment less favourable than the treatment accorded to other programs originating in the United States retransmitted in Canada."
Companies in this story: (TSX:BCE)
David Paddon, The Canadian Press